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Does Ray Kelly Know the Speed Limit Now?

4:26 PM EDT on July 20, 2009

bloomberg_kelly.jpgMayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announcing changes in NYC crime rates for 2008. The city does not track rates of traffic crime. Photo: Gothamist.

Soon after we posted about Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's refusal to acknowledge the sad state of traffic enforcement in New York City, a reader sent us this nugget from Kelly's first stint in charge of NYPD, reported in the May 12, 1993 edition of Newsday:

Following a rash of accidents involving pedestrians and scofflaw motorists, Kelly told the City Council Transportation Committee about a host of police actions to crack down on drivers with two or more license suspensions. He said police made 230 arrests in the past week under his new directive.

Then came the snafu. Asked about the speed limit on city streets, Kelly looked puzzled. He turned to an aide. "It's 35, isn't it?" he asked loudly. Well, no, the aide whispered. It's actually 30.

It's telling that Kelly overestimated the actual speed limit, because it suggests that the commissioner did not appreciate the public safety hazards posed by driving on crowded urban streets. The faster cars go, of course, the greater the danger, and what may feel like a safe speed to the driver may prove deadly for the pedestrian or cyclist in the vehicle's path. From page 16 of Transportation Alternatives' report, Executive Order [PDF]:

    • 5 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 20 mph
    • 45 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 30 mph
    • 85 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 40 mph
    • When cars exceed 20 mph, the comfort level of cyclists and pedestrians drops significantly
    • Eye contact between drivers, and between drivers and pedestrians, drops rapidly at speeds greater than 20 mph
    • Driving 20 mph requires a stopping distance of 150 feet, driving 30 mph requires a stopping distance of 200 feet, driving 35 mph requires a stopping distance of 250 feet.

If Ray Kelly understands the risks of urban speeding better today than he did 16 years ago, he sure didn't let it show last week. Kelly denied all the evidence that something is broken with traffic enforcement in New York City. As TA's report documented, only one out of every 12,698 speeding violations gets caught. As injury statistics bear out, New York pedestrians are 63 percent more likely to be injured by traffic than their counterparts in London (where some residential zones have 20 mph speed limits). And as anyone familiar with New York City sidewalks can attest, reckless driving strangles quality of life by making people feel unsafe walking, biking, or venturing outside.

Let's assume that to bring some order to the lawless atmosphere on city streets, NYPD needs more manpower or greater leeway to install enforcement cameras. They're not going to get those resources if Ray Kelly can't even acknowledge that we have a problem.

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